CLINTON — With no wins and a point differential of minus-35.8 per game, the Prince of Peace girls basketball team is entering Thursday's postseason opener as the perceived underdog to Calamus-Wheatland.
The Irish were swept during the regular season by Calamus-Wheatland, with the most recent game being a 61-36 setback just this past Friday.
Those results don't matter this week to Irish head coach Dave Nelson. Much like what he preached to his teams years ago at Prince of Peace, the playoffs, no matter what the team's record may indicate, are a clean slate.
"Every year when it's tournament time, I always tell my teams that nobody cares about your record," said Nelson, who returned to the Prince of Peace girls basketball program this year after a years-long hiatus. "My message for years has been nobody cares about yesterday. It's all about today. We have to prepare for today and be ready."
Despite the 25-point loss Friday to Calamus-Wheatland, the teams aren't far off in statistics. And Prince of Peace has lost only one game this season by single digits — a Dec. 15 loss at Calamus-Wheatland.
The issues that crept up on the Irish this past Friday happened on the defensive side of the ball, and in the rebounding department, Nelson said.
"This week is all about defense," Nelson said. "We've got to disrupt their rhythm. They've had girls that have shot the lights out against us. We have to do a better job on our close outs on defense and have to limit them to one shot."
Calamus-Wheatland senior Jenna Diercks has been a handful on the offensive end against Prince of Peace. She is averaging double-figures in the two games against the Irish, which is better than her 7.8 per-game average for the season.
And the Warriors have used a major rebounding advantage in the two prior games to defeat the Irish. Calamus-Wheatland is averaging 34.9 rebounds per game this season. However, against Prince of Peace, they are averaging 46 rebounds per game.
"That's been the problem against them," Nelson said. "There's not a switch that one day it starts happening. Our hope again is that it will start kicking in. We're playing a more physical game than we've ever played, but we still need to be more physical."
Offensively, the Irish are going to rely on Anabel Blount, Isabel Hansen and Paige Kuehl. Blount and Hansen poured in 15 points apiece in Friday's loss, while Kuehl had 16 points in the first game between the two teams.
Combined, Hansen has 29 points against Calamus-Wheatland this season.
The ages of those three players — all three are freshmen — is why Nelson and his team haven't stopped themselves from looking to the offseason.
"We're going to try to turn the tide," said Nelson, who previously guided a team to the state tournament. "The kids are working their tails off. They're just trying to find a way to get a win. We've already been talking about the offseason, and we're going to be taking the kids out to Des Moines (for the state tournament) and show them why we go through what we go through. We're going to be picturing and visualizing making a run in a couple of years."
It's not hard to see why Nelson is optimistic. Nine of the 12 girls on the roster are freshmen. The top five scorers this season are all freshmen. The top three rebounders are freshmen. And the top three in steals and assists are — you guessed it — freshmen.
The Irish will say goodbye to just one senior, Emma Kitteringham, who ranks fifth on the team in rebounding and fourth in steals. And Nelson said there is a good group of players in eighth grade who will make an immediate impact for the Irish in the 2018-19 season.
"Our goal is to play 30 games in the offseason," Nelson said. "We were really close to that in the past year. This is a pretty intense group as far as our basketball program goes. The offseason is going to be a big difference maker. We will continue to get in the gym and shoot, and will get in the weight room and lift."
Despite visualizing more wins to come in the future, Nelson still believes this group is capable of getting a "W" in the wins column, and has been impressed with the work ethic in his first year back at the helm.
"I believe there are going to be much better days ahead," Nelson said. "But our players' attitudes and work ethic has been terrific this season. This is one of my favorite teams I've ever coached. There has rarely been any issues and all the players are working hard."
The Iowa High School girls basketball postseason will start at 7 p.m. Thursday with Prince of Peace (0-21) traveling to Calamus-Wheatland (4-17). In other area action Thursday, Marquette Catholic will host Easton Valley at 7 p.m.